[ Sunday, May 25, 2003 ]
KUWAIT, May 25 (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in remarks published on Sunday, blamed Israel for the tense ties between his country and the United States.
"The only problem between us and the United States is the issue of Israel. There is no bilateral problem," Assad told Kuwait's al-Anbaa daily.
"America is satisfied with Syria and (other) Arab countries (only) when the Israelis are satisfied with us," he said. "What kind of a logic is that?. America is an influential power and we need to have a direct relationship with it without (Israel) between us."
The United States accuses Syria, along with Iran, of sponsoring terrorism, in part due to their support for militant anti-Israeli groups like Lebanon's Hizbollah.
Washington has also accused Damascus of seeking to develop non-conventional weapons and giving refuge to senior Iraqi officials after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's rule.
Assad said his country would continue to support Hizbollah for as long as the group limits its operations to defending Lebanon from Israeli threats.
"We have told the Americans once Israel stops its continued provocation and aggressions (against Lebanon) there will not be any action from Hizbollah. Israel attacks and they (have to) respond," he said.
"As long as its actions are in this framework, we will continue to support the group. Hizbollah does not pursue any other goal."
In May 2000, Israel withdrew from an occupation zone it had carved out in south Lebanon in 1982 with the aim of protecting its northern border from guerrilla attacks.
Syria, the main power broker in its smaller neighbour Lebanon, started peace talks with Israel in the 1990s but the negotiations stalled over the fate of the Golan Heights which Israel seized from Damascus during a 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The United States wants Damascus to stop supporting Hizbollah and radical Palestinian groups like Hamas, which is seeking the destruction of Israel.
art [4:58 PM]